- "It's a direwolf...tough old beast."
- ―Ned Stark
Direwolves are an unusually large and intelligent species of wolf. A grey direwolf on a white field is the sigil of House Stark.
Direwolves are held to be near-mythical in most of the south of Westeros. Inhabitants of the North acknowledge that they are a real animal, but they are very rarely encountered there. There are some rumors of them living in the Wolfswood near Winterfell, but these are unconfirmed. There may have been larger direwolf populations in the North in past millennia, but centuries of human encroachment on their territory have pushed their range back to the furthest north.
There have been confirmed sightings north of the Wall by the Night's Watch who guard it. The wildlings who live beyond the Wall claim that direwolves can be found in greater numbers in the Haunted Forest to the north of the Wall. By the reign of King Robert Baratheon, no direwolf had been sighted south of the Wall - even in the Stark lands of the North - in over 200 years.
After Eddard Stark sentences Will to death for deserting the Night's Watch and carries out the execution, he heads back to Winterfell along with his sons Robb and Bran, his "bastard" son Jon Snow and his adolescent ward Theon Greyjoy. On their journey, they encounter a stag dead in the road, partially disemboweled. Looking for what killed it, they find a dead female direwolf, with an antler piece broken off in her throat. The female died after giving birth, and her five pups huddle by the corpse for warmth. Eddard advocates killing the pups out of mercy, but Jon Snow convinces his father that this is an omen: the direwolf is the symbol of House Stark, and Eddard has five trueborn children. With Bran looking on beseechingly, Eddard agrees that his children can have the pups, but only if they raise them themselves with no help from the servants. Just as the party leaves, Jon finds a sixth pup, an albino runt of the litter. Theon mockingly points out that this one belongs to Jon. Further adding to the speculation that the event is an omen is the fact that the pups are revealed to be four males and two females, the same as the Stark children (including Jon).
When Eddard Stark travels south to King's Landing to serve as Hand of the King, he brings his daughters Sansa and Arya along with their pet direwolves, Lady and Nymeria. These are the first direwolves to be seen so far south in hundreds of years. After Nymeria attacks Prince Joffrey, Arya drives her away to escape execution for attacking the Prince; in her place, Lady is killed by Lord Eddard on the command of Robert. Nymeria has been traveling the Riverlands ever since where she leads a pack of gray wolves.
The other direwolves remained with their masters until they were killed, with the exception of Jon's direwolf Ghost, who is still alive and by Jon's side, but who left him for a period of time when Jon was north of the Wall to explore his natural habitat.
BiologyAn adult direwolf is as large as a small horse, and can rip a man's arm from its socket. Even a juvenile direwolf is quite capable of killing a man by ripping out his throat. Physically, they are not simply larger versions of wolves, but have slightly different proportions than their smaller cousins; their heads are larger with a leaner, more pronounced muzzle, their legs are longer in proportion to their body, and they have proportionately larger teeth that are often used to crush bones. They are typically gray to almost black, sometimes with a lighter underbody or reddish tints. Some are light gray and white or reddish tan or mixed red and gray. A few are true albinoes. They mostly have golden to green eyes with some having hazel, amber or albino red irises.
Direwolves are loyal to their masters and will attack anyone who threatens them. Arya Stark's direwolf Nymeria attacked Prince Joffrey after he threatened her with a sword, while Bran Stark's Summer killed a would-be assassin in Bran's bedroom. They will also come to the aid of those they know are loyal to their masters, since Ghost defended Samwell Tarly and Gilly, both friends of Jon Snow, from Night's Watch bullies, and later prepared to fight alongside Ser Davos Seaworth, Eddison Tollett and a handful of Jon's loyal brothers against the Night's Watch mutineers who betrayed and murdered Jon not long before.
At the Battle of Oxcross during the War of the Five Kings, Robb Stark's direwolf Grey Wind plays a vital part in Robb's victory, killing several Lannister sentries and panicking their horses. During the Battle of Castle Black, Ghost killed numerous wildlings, among them at least one Thenn.
The Stark direwolves
- Ghost, adopted by Jon Snow. An albino with red eyes and the runt of the litter. Ghost followed Jon during his service with the Night's Watch at the Wall and beyond. Currently at Winterfell.
- Nymeria, adopted by Arya Stark. Fearing for Nymeria's life, Arya chased her away after the wolf cub attacked Prince Joffrey Baratheon to defend her owner. She is now leading a wolf pack in the Riverlands, being the first direwolf seen that far south (other than Grey Wind) in many centuries.
- Lady: adopted by Sansa Stark. Lady is killed by Lord Stark in place of Nymeria for biting Joffrey, under the order of Robert Baratheon at Cersei Lannister's urging. The first of the direwolf litter to have been killed.
- Grey Wind, adopted by Robb Stark. Accompanied the main Stark army as it marched south, used by King Robb as a ferocious war dog. Killed at The Twins by Frey men with crossbows during the Red Wedding, after which both he and Robb were decapitated and his head sewn onto Robb's corpse. The second of the direwolf litter to have been killed.
- Shaggydog, adopted by Rickon Stark. Easily distinguishable by black fur. Likewise fled Winterfell with Rickon. After separating from Bran's group, Rickon, Osha, and Shaggydog fled to the Last Hearth to seek refuge with the Umbers. Shaggydog was later killed by the Umbers when they betrayed Rickon to Ramsay Bolton and Ramsay apparently skinned him to use his fur as a carpet. The third of the direwolf litter to have been killed.
- Summer, adopted by Bran Stark. Fled Winterfell with Bran following the castle's Sack of Winterfell. Accompanied Bran and his companions Beyond the Wall to the Cave of the three-eyed raven, where he was later mauled by Wights, buying time for Bran to escape. The fourth of the direwolf litter to have been killed.
Behind the scenes
- In Season 1, the production team used adult dogs to stand in for the juvenile direwolf puppies. Northern Inuit (Utonagan) Dogs from Mahlek Kennels were used. In interviews they have stated that this was done to allow the audience to grow attached to them, which would have been more difficult had the dogs been created by special effects. As the direwolves continue to grow, however, more special effects are going to be used.
- When Season 1 wrapped up, the dogs used as direwolves were offered to the young actors who played their owners in the show. Sophie Turner (Sansa) took the dog who played Lady. Isaac Hempstead-Wright (Bran) wanted to take Summer, but his family already had two dogs at home.
- In Season 2, real wolves were used to portray the adolescent direwolves. Using a variety of camera tricks and techniques, the shots were augmented to make the wolves appear larger, and then composited with the background and actors for the final shots. The result is that in Season 2 the direwolves are played by real-life wolves that have been super-sized in post-production.
- In Season 5, Ghost is the only direwolf that appears. Because he is supposed to be older and larger, the production team wanted to use a full-sized trained wolf named Quigley to portray him (in "The Wars To Come" and "The Gift"). Quigley's trainer Andrew Simpson owns about 30 wolves and is based in Calgary, Canada. The production team had been reaching out to him since Season 1, but he was busy training wolves for other film projects. In earlier seasons, they had hoped to have one of his wolves transported to Northern Ireland, but by Season 5 they decided it would be easier to simply fly out to Canada to film the scenes they needed with the wolf in a Calgary studio.
- It wasn't possible to translate "dire wolf" into German, so the species was named "Schattenwolf" in the German dub, meaning "shadow wolves" . This name was possibly chosen because there's also an animal species in Westeros called Shadowcats.
The name dire wolf (Latin: Canis dirus ) is given to an actual species of Pleistocene megafauna that once existed on real-life Earth, like the mammoth and sabertooth cat. Dire wolves inhabited the Americas, from 1.8 million years ago to about 10,000 years ago.
Note that the name of the real-life animal is spelled as two words, "dire wolf", but that the name in the A Song of Ice and Fire novels is consistently spelled as one word, "direwolf".
The large Pleistocene mammals went extinct when the last ice age ended, roughly 10,000 years ago. Large herbivores such as mammoths died out due to climate change (and possibly hunting by prehistoric humans), and carnivores such as dire wolves died when their food sources disappeared. Dire wolves and mammoths were adapted to the ice age climate, their size maximizing heat retention and strength but at the cost of speed. In the warmer climate following the ice age, smaller but faster animals thrived that didn't need to make these tradeoffs for cold weather. Not only did dire wolves' old large prey such as mammoths die out, but they were being out-competed by smaller, faster, and smarter grey wolves. Dires and Greys are more like cousins than grandpa / grandson; Grey wolves are not descendant from the dire wolf, but both share a common ancestral species that they split from: big-game specialists dire wolves, and more generalistic grey wolves. Dire wolves, however, were not the largest wolves. Currently, extant subspecies the Yukon wolf (Canis lupus pambasileus) and the Northwestern wolf (Canis lupus occidentals) were approximately the same size as the dire wolf.
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